Research

What is a person in relation to his/her body, the material world, and different conflicts in society? As a scholar, I address this central question through studying Chinese literature and culture, especially literary representations of personhood, prints and performances of drama, the gender dimension of writing, and writing as social and political practices. My research projects involve various types of materials––dramas, novels, poetry, historical documents, and visual representations. Throughout my research, I maintain a threefold approach to literature: identifying meaningful textual details, examining the material and social production of literary works, and interpreting literature through critical questions informed by both Chinese and Western traditions.

Book Projects

  • Exile to the Stage: Costuming and Personhood in Early Qing Drama (forthcoming at Columbia University Press)

The book studies the political and cultural significance of clothing and costuming in early Qing drama (texts, performances, and visual representations) against the Ming-Qing transition and Manchu government’s hair and dress regulations. The book argues that the Ming-Qing transition turned theatrical costuming into a unique way to reassemble the disrupted body, clothes, and individual identities during the dynastic transition. This book introduces an interdisciplinary method to integrate texts, performances, history, and critical questions in the study of Chinese drama.

Support and Honors: Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Postdoc Fellowship in China Studies (2017-18); Association of Asian Studies First Book Subvention (2018)

  • Bodies That Still Matter: Forensics and Literature in Late Imperial China (in progress)

Dead bodies always reveal significant aspects of a society and its culture. In addition to formulating a systemic way of understanding the living body, traditional China developed comprehensive forensic practices to examine dead bodies. Those practices together with their literary representations reflect the understanding of individuals as biological, social, and legal subjects in late imperial China. The project analyzes court-case literature and related historical documents in 17th–19th-century China. Through an examination of court-case novels and dramas, forensic and legal documents, and visual records, the project delineates the modes of interaction between literary writing and forensic practices in late imperial China.

Support and Honors: Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation Research Grant (2018-2020)

Articles

  • “The Inconvenient Imperial Visit: Writing Clothing and Ethnicity in 1684 Qufu”, Late Imperial China, Dec. 2016. (PDF) (2017 SEC/AAS Article Prize)

The Manchu-style costumes employed at Confucius ritual performances in early Qing China signified an inherent paradox: whereas Confucian rituals sinicized the Manchus, Manchu costumes colonized Confucian rituals. This paper examines the Kong family’s writings about clothing and body on display during the Kangxi emperor’s visit to Qufu in 1684. It shows that literati scholars of the Kong family integrated Manchu clothing into Confucian ritual through their strategic writing and interpretation. On a larger scale, the paper suggests that the sartorial transition embodies the hybrid process of sinicization and Manchuization which characterizes early Qing history.

  • “Absent Presence: Costuming and Identity in Qing Drama A Ten-thousand Li Reunion,Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, forthcoming.

The paper explores the relation between costuming and identity in Qing drama through the case of Wanli yuan 萬里圓 (A Ten-thousand Li Reunion), a play about a Chinese family separated and then reunited through the dynastic transition. The paper examines textual fragments, visual representations, and performance records to demonstrate how the drama dresses its characters as members of a Chinese family and subjects of changing states. The study shows that theatrical costuming in Qing drama provided a productive way of reshaping body, clothing, and individual identities that were constantly in tension with historical changes.

  • “Accidents of Modernity: Forging Collectivities in Railway Reportage of Late Qing China” (under review).

How did the introduction of modern technologies to China in the late nineteenth century trigger nascent imagination of individuals and collectivities in relation to the material world? This paper answers the question by studying the reportage of train and railways in late Qing newspaper Shenbao and its supplementary Dianshizhai Pictorial. The paper delineates two types of collectivities in railway reportage: first, late Qing newspapers promulgated an imagined collectivity of people in harmony with nature and the railway; second, their coverage of railway accidents subjugated the minds and bodies of individuals to the punitive and disciplinary power of modern machines, simultaneously formulating a collectivity of spectators. The paper further argues against a representational relationship between technology and media, and instead suggests that both are material conditions for discursive (textual and visual) practices involving and engendering human individuals and collectivities.

  • Dressing Self and Others in Kong Shangren’s Poetry (under review)

 

  • Peony Pavilion Lost: Disorder and Desire in the Theatrical World of Fan Wenruo (1587-ca. 1634)” (under review)